I was very upset the other day when I read the following in an article in news24 the other day.
“Cosas condemns any racial tendencies that seeks to close doors of learning for the black African students, who are indigenous people of this country and Africa at large by having foreign, unoriginal Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in some racist schools, more especially in the West Rand region under racist Afrikaners management,” a statement from Gauteng provincial secretary Oagile Louw said.
I was left wondering if all Afrikaans schools are racist or only those on the west rand!! And furthermore why are some people still intimidated by Afrikaans 16 years into our democracy. It was the language of the oppressor but in Africa so was French, Portuguese and English and that hasn’t stopped the people in those countries from expressing themselves in these European tongues!!
Afrikaans is an interesting language and it is a relatively new language in History but that does not make it a language that should thus be ignored. If you asked me where Afrikaans came from I would always say that the Dutch bought it out in 1652 when they established a colony in Cape Town. A couple of years later the Huguenots, mainly French protestants who had moved to Holland fleeing catholic persecution came to South Africa on ships to settle in distant lands. There were German, French and Dutch Protestants in this group so although never mentioned I am sure that German and French did have an influence as well as the Malay, Portuguese and some African languages in its development.
According to Wikipedia and South African statistics Afrikaans is the 3rd most spoken language and it has the widest geographical and racial distribution of all official languages. It is widely spoken and understood as a second or third language. When I go to my sister’s farm in Bloemfontein we have to communicate to her staff in Afrikaans. We don’t force them to speak Afrikaans – it’s just that they don’t know any English!!
So why am I making all this fuss!!
I love languages. I speak a few myself!! I never learnt Zulu unfortunately because in those days we learnt English, Afrikaans and maybe French or German!! I did not live on a farm like Eddie from Ficksburg or my friend Debbie and so have an extremely limited knowledge of the Zulu language and I can’t even call it Fanagolo. I also hated Afrikaans until the travel bug hit me and then I realised how fortunate we were!!
I was sitting alone but not by myself in a hot spring in Iceland, surrounded by snow, northern lights haphazard movement across the sky, bottle of Irish Baileys in hand and I was contemplating life. Those of you who spend time alone will know that other people’s conversations can be quite interesting during these times. I was listening to a foreign language spoken by an elderly couple and after understanding the just of the conversation I asked them what they were speaking. It was Old Norse a language spoken by the older generation of Norwegians and I could understand a bit – I am sure that was because of Afrikaans. 4 Months later I found myself in Akureyri watching the sun come down to the horizon on 21st June before bouncing off to start its next daily cycle. There we were a few in the back packers all come to see the midnight sun and once again conversation flowed in many languages and Afrikaans.
When I studied my Travel and tourism diploma in France; paid for by my fish cutting antiques in Iceland I had to choose a 3rd language. I had French with difficulty but essential, English as my 2nd language and I chose German. The girls in my class and I think one male student, had all done German for matric in France. Verbal comprehensions were my best. I understood a lot more than anyone else in my class – That was because of Afrikaans!!
My favourite sport is snow skiing. If you want to woo me, offer me a snow ski holiday somewhere in the world!! My most frequent destination is France but ski resorts are multilingual places in this modern world. I laugh now but my children definitely don’t laugh at their sergeant major mom who got them up before dawn, fed them breakfast and made sure they were standing at the ski lift as it started working in the morning. First up the slope and first to come down!! That powder some mornings was to die for!! Many a time on my own, I took my food and drink in a backpack, eating it sitting on the lift so as not to waste a single moment. The only time I took off those skis was to go into the powder room (but definitely nothing powder about a ladies toilet on a ski slope). Thank goodness I’ve mellowed and now will stop for lunch when others have gone back to the slopes after theirs!! The joy about the long ski lift rides was again those overheard conversations. I spoke Afrikaans and a few German words to people from Holland, Luxembourg, Germany and even spent a day following a man from Belgium slope to slope kamikaze style which never would have happened if I did not have Afrikaans. He could not speak English and would definitely not have wanted muted ski lift conversation that day!!
I remember in those early days of my travels, travelling in a combi called the DOOS from Nice, France to Bad Durkheim a place in Southern Germany. We stopped at a contact simply known as Jan, a big German wine maker. We had never met him before. We mentioned a few names and we were sleeping in the DOOS behind the garage in no time picking grapes during the day and drinking ‘neue’ wine by night, eating Kotelett, Bratwurst, Leberwurst, Sauerkraut and Apfelschnitz. Jan used to send his daughter Dagmar for translating purposes to the delight of my 4 male travel companions but he treated us special because we made an effort with him communicating in Afrikaans and 3 or 4 German words!! Before long we were all sleeping in the spare room of his house!! Incidentally I had the most fun as 21 polish men were also picking grapes at that time and minding my own business the vines were parted every now and then with a flurry of polish words being spoken and sung and raucous laughter from all other poles in earshot. Afrikaans definitely did not help me with that language but we had a good laugh!!
I went to Egypt once. Rode a smelly camel into the desert and bartered in the souks using the name Bafana Bafana which delighted the local ‘mad about soccer’ Egyptians. I thought I was buying bargains but I’m sure they made the most out of the deals we finally agreed too. I visited the pyramids just on the outskirts of Cairo. I had finished reading ‘The Orion Mystery’ and in days had booked my trip and here I was making my way down the narrow passage into the bowels of the pyramid. I thought I was the only one there until I noticed 2 people and a familiar language being spoken. All the way to Egypt sharing an ancient chamber visit with one other couple and they were speaking Afrikaans!!! We laughed all he way back to Cairo centre.